In late October, I attended three different trade shows in a whirlwind tour of Las Vegas and presented to several hundred dealers on “Advanced Search Engine Optimization: What Still Works on Google.” Throughout the shows, I was struck by how many different topics and tracts there were at each of the conferences, and it occurred to me that for dealers trying to prioritize their marketing and advertising resources this could be absolutely mind-boggling. So I thought I should take this opportunity to highlight the three critical items a dealer must get right in 2013 to succeed online.
First up are “Local Citations.” Google has changed its algorithm for local search dramatically over the last two years. With its Venice update, Google began localizing its results for products and services like “Nissan Dealer” or “Oil Change.” A few years ago, these searches would have resulted in Nissan’s national website and perhaps one or two dealer sites from around the country showing on the first page. In 2012, Google now shows Nissan dealers that are proximate to the consumer’s location (based on IP address) first. If a consumer is searching for “oil change” or “brake repair,” Google displays local merchants that provide these services.
One of the most important factors that Google uses in determining which dealership websites pop up in search results is “Local Citations.” A Local Citation is a reference to a dealership from one of the major local directories: Yahoo, FourSquare, Yelp, Whitepages, Superpages, CitySearch, etc. Google values how many of these citations each dealership has and checks that the Business Name, Address, and Phone Number (NAP) in each directory matches the NAP on the dealership’s website AND on the dealership’s Google Plus page. The more listings your dealership has, and the more accurate they are, the more credibility Google gives your dealership as a local business in your area. Yext is a great resource for managing these listings in one central location at a reasonable price point.
The second critical item for next year is Google marketing. For most progressive dealers, the top traffic source by far for their website is pay per click (PPC). Nearly every in-market consumer is using Google for research, so buying PPC ads ensures that your dealership reaches almost every relevant prospect. Any dealer not doing PPC either in-house or through a top provider is likely missing huge opportunities. The sharpest dealers are also doing site remarketing. Remarketing (which I’ve also heard some dealers refer to as stalking) allows a dealer to display relevant ads all over the Internet to every consumer who has ever visited their site, even if they’ve never interacted with the dealership!
Remarketing is effective and relatively easy to implement. Your search provider or in-house staff puts Google Remarketing code on your site, builds campaigns in Google’s display network, and then, when consumers who have visited your dealership’s site visit other sites, Google displays ads for your dealership. We’ve probably all seen these types of ads appear to “follow” us around the Internet—you can leverage this great technology too!
Right now Google is beta-testing an even more interesting technology—Remarketing in Search. Remarketing in Search will allow you to tailor your ads in Google search results based on your knowledge of what users have done on your site in the past. You can even bid higher for these consumers since you know they are more qualified. This new system will work just like Google Remarketing, using the same Google remarketing code, except you will be explicitly targeting consumers with ads based on their Google searches.
Lastly, digital analytics are a must. Most website vendors in our space now provide at least some basic Web analytics that give a dealer high-level information like visitors, visits and leads. Better providers let a dealer easily view these metrics by traffic source (Google, Yahoo, AutoTrader), medium (organic search, PPC, e-mail) and, in some cases, even keyword level metrics. Regardless of the sophistication of your website provider’s analytics, you must also augment their analytics with Google Analytics.
Not only do you want to use analytics to validate and verify your website provider’s reporting with a neutral third party, you can also do some amazing site optimization and analysis with Google Analytics’ Goal Value functionality. If all you are measuring for your paid search campaigns is e-mails and phone calls (which you must be doing at a minimum), you are overlooking the other valuable consumer actions that these campaigns are generating. You want to make sure that you are accounting for and valuing important consumer actions like coupon prints, map views, brochure prints, Vehicle Detail Page Views and newsletter sign-ups. It’s not too hard to set up these measurements in Google Analytics, and it will change the way you view your digital marketing activities.
So in 2013, while you may have many areas to focus on for improving your dealership, make sure that you include Local Citations, Google marketing and digital analytics. It may mean the difference between your Internet department’s success and failure in 2013.